A mellow time.
A time to catch one’s breath and simply appreciate the bounty and euphoria of the season.
When the tireless efforts of every farmer in Alberta culminates finally in the production of golden streams of wheat, barley, canola and corn. Truckloads of peas, potatoes and sugar beets.
When sheds and storage buildings are full of the warm, sweet smell of new-mown hay and grasses, carefully dried.
And on the Stringam Ranch, we, too had our harvest.
There was the bounty of endless (and I do mean endless, but that is another story) rows of garden produce to be brought in. Carrots, peas, beans, corn, turnips, potatoes, parsnips, beets, cucumbers. And many other things that a four-year-old simply couldn't name, though they did taste good.
Oh, and chickens.
Because the chicken coop was situated near the garden, to me, the chickens were part and parcel of the fall harvest. Didn't we eat them? Didn't we ‘produce’ chicken at the same time as all of the other food?
It just made sense.
The slaughtering of the chickens on the Ranch was a huge production. I can picture even now the great tubs of scalding hot water to loosen the feathers. The teams of choppers, pickers, and . . . innards removers. Everyone with a sharp knife or axe. Or with rubber-gloved hands working in the scalding water.
It was every parent’s dream for their small child.
But there I was. Bouncing from group to group. Being forcibly removed from the more dangerous situations. Slowly getting covered in feathers.
Most probably looking like a large chicken myself.
When some of the more stringent voices hollering at me to keep away had finally effected obedience, and my initial fascination with viewing the death throes of the chickens had worn off, I was at a loose end.
Not a good thing for a four-year-old.
Not my fault.
The bodies of the chickens were systematically hauled away, so a closer study of them had proven impossible, but the heads . . .! Those were still there, lying forgotten near the chopping stump. They were piling up, obviously needing to be disposed of.
Please remember – I was a child of the Country.
One by one, I began picking them up and throwing them, unceremoniously, into the river, only a few feet away.
Hmmm. This was fun!
They would bob for a few seconds, then sink into the milky depths, perhaps to be eaten by some unseen fish, or maybe one of the monsters that our dog, Mike, was sure lived there.
I found a paint can lid. Great! Now I could throw the heads out four at a time. Much more efficient.
For some time, this obviously essential errand kept me occupied – to the vast relief of those who mistakenly thought they had more important jobs. I would collect the heads on my little ‘plate’, walk over to the river and . . . give them the Alberta version of a sea burial.
It was genius. \
To a four-year-old.
Then the fateful, life altering event. I picked up a head, deposited it on my plate . . .
AND. THE. BEAK. OPENED!
No word of a lie. It opened! It was possessed! It was going to get me!
Straight into the air, the plate went.
By the time it and it’s contents had hit the ground, I was already halfway to the house screaming, and I quote, “THE CHICKEN HEAD! THE CHICKEN HEAD!”
Not very inventive, true, but effective.
It stopped the entire production line for several seconds. Mostly, I admit, so the people could laugh, but why haggle over details?
Mom consoled me, between chuckles, and all was smoothed over.
Except for one thing. From then on, I was afraid of chickens. I learned to wrestle 2000 pound bulls without turning a hair, but tell me to collect eggs from under a 3 pound pile of feathers and I was a quivering mass of . . . something soggy and cowardly.
My family still laughs.
There is an addendum to all of this. When my husband and I were on our honeymoon, we decided to make a day trip to the Calgary Zoo.
There was a display of emus. And a machine that dispensed grain to feed them.
Put in a quarter, get a handful of feed. All went well to that point. I approached the emu with my little handful of grain. It moved closer. I moved closer. It looked over the fence. I looked at it. It’s beak opened.
And my new husband was suddenly staring at the handful of grain that magically appeared in his hand.
I was halfway to the car screaming . . .
You get the picture.